It happened three different times in the same familiar place.
I pulled into my grocery store lot and parked my car in between the painted yellow lines, shifting the steering wheel so that my tires pointed straight. I grabbed my purse and quickened my pace toward the sliding doors. As I entered, I observed an older man carrying a bouquet of flowers in his hands. The bright-colored daffodils formed a rainbow of pink, blue and green against the gray of his sweater. I smiled at him as we crossed paths and noticed how his thin-wired glasses rested on his nose. He walked fast, maybe eager to give these flowers to his date, wife, or perhaps even his mistress. I did not know his story, but the moment made enough of an impression for this image to stick. An ordinary excursion to the grocery store became one in which I attempted to fill in the blanks about someone else's life.
I did not think about this previous encounter until it happened again almost four weeks later at the same grocery store. This time I didn't bother to park my car straight. The air possessed a cold chill and my feet shivered because I slipped on a pair of flip-flops near my garage door. This time another man appeared as I walked the gray pavement. Like a lightning bolt in the middle of my ordinary, this 40-something man in a button down white shirt and faded blue jeans balanced a dozen red roses in his hands. His face had what looked like a pregnancy glow. His shiny hair, shoes that looked recently buffed, and a faint smell of aftershave made it clear he wanted to make an impression. Perhaps it was a first date with a woman he met online. Or maybe he wanted to use these roses as a form of apology because he stayed out too late with the guys the night before. Or that bulge in his back pocket disguised an engagement ring for his surprise proposal at the restaurant to the woman of his dreams that he found after a very messy divorce. His faced appeared eager. The roses seem to whisper second chances.
To be honest, I dismissed my second intersection with this man and the flowers as a coincidence. I felt silly even thinking about the "meaning" behind these two separate, but very similar occurrences. But when the same thing appeared a third time, I could not easily push my encounters to the back of my mind.
In the third incident, a man came out of the entrance door even though he was on his way out. It was mid-afternoon on a day when the desert's sun did not want to hide. I remember catching a glance at the sky and admiring the deep clarity of the light blue. On this particular day, my cadence was not hurried because I had some time before tackling my next task. I saw him in the corner of my eye. The tapping sound of a cane caught my attention first. Looking sideways, I saw an older man with a trimmed beard. His hands held white flowers. Again, on another day, a different man with a set of flowers that appeared to make yet another statement. I looked at this man with intention. His pants did not seem to fit, his feet were labored, and he maneuvered his cane like a companion. His eyes looked tired, like he had shed his final tears the night before. I wondered if these flowers were for his wife who suffered from Alzheimer's and could no longer recognize him. Or whether he just lost a dear childhood friend. In that moment, it looked like these white lilies were his saviors.
I am not certain why these very different men appeared in my life. It could be coincidence. Or it could be one of those reminders.
Everyone has a story. I think we all forget that sometimes. As we run our errands, fill up our gas tanks, wait in traffic, we dismiss nameless faces who carry stories just like ours. There are common threads among all of us.
And perhaps these flowers helped me realize that we are all trying to connect the dots.
Follow Rudri Bhatt Patel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BeingRudri
My dad introduced me to storytelling. When I was a kid, every night he would tell me an anecdote from his childhood. I was fascinated with the tales of him and his friend Marty, causing some kind of mischief.
Photo credit: Steph Connors
I remember saying at one point, “Dad, you have some great stories. I’ll never have stories as good as yours.”
But would laugh and then reply confidently, “Sure you will. You’ll have even better stories that you’ll tell to your son.” He reminded me that everyone has a story to tell; they just don’t always realize it.
I wondered if it could be true, that I would one day have stories better than my dad’s. With his tales of UFO sightings and Walter Payton autographs, it seemed unlikely.
My first big story
It was my freshmen year of college when the theme of storytelling re-emerged in my life. My dad gave me a journal on my 19th birthday, encouraging me to fill it with rich stories. And that I did.
After a girl broke off an engagement to date me and my whole fraternity went up in arms over the issue — all within two weeks before the beginning of summer break — a friend pointed out, “Dude, you gotta write that down. It’s a great story.”
Maybe it wasn’t the most moral or inspirational piece of life experience I could ever share with my offspring, but the guy had a point: It was one heck of a story.
Over the next couple years, I realized something:
Around every corner is a story waiting to be told. And people are longing to hear it. (Click here to tweet that.)
The power of stories
Nothing is so warm and inviting, yet so challenging and poignant, as a powerful story, told well.
Stories are written to be shared, and it is our responsibility to retell those that we witness — not only for our own sake, but for the benefit of others. Stories change people. They shape entire cultures.
After traveling through European hostels, visiting churches in Latin America, and staying in homes throughout North America, I’ve conceded to my dad’s prophetic statement. Maybe I have a story or two to tell my kids.
Maybe we all do.
So what’s your story? Share it in the comments.
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